Interview with Kim from “English with Kim” and Her Move Online
What’s your story – how long have you been teaching English and what’s your background?
I started teaching English back in 2008. I started out in the nonprofit field teaching refugees life and work skills to help them find jobs and get settled in the United States. When I moved to Boston, I spent a few years working in language institutes and adult education programs (often at the same time!). From there, I moved to Peru and later Chile where I trained English teaching volunteers and also taught English to kids in afterschool programs and in public schools. During my career, I have taught every level of English, including literacy level and super fluent, and worked with learners from just about every socio-economic and cultural background in both for-profit and non-profit programs. And I still always learn something new from each and every student!
When and why did you decide to make the switch from a traditional classroom to a virtual one?
I decided to teach online in 2014 after realizing how effective online education could be. I earned a postgraduate certificate through an online program and loved that I didn’t have to commute to class, yet I learned just as much or often more than in my classes in grad school! Further, I felt inspired by all the entrepreneurs I met while living in South America and realized that moving online was the best way to leverage my skills and special talents as well as increase my earning potential. Further, I love travel and living in different cities and wanted to be able to take my work with me when I inevitably hit the road again.
As a teacher, what was the biggest challenge for you moving online?
The biggest challenge moving online was breaking out of the mindset of the traditional classroom. In the beginning, I thought I needed a digital whiteboard, that my students would need to purchase textbooks or materials, and I worried about having enough resources to prove I was a “real” teacher. As time has gone on, my style of teaching has evolved to suit the online format, my confidence has grown, and now I truly understand how the traditional classroom style of teaching had been limiting for both me and my students.
What was the biggest benefit?
The biggest benefit to moving online has been the ability to choose. I only work with students who can truly benefit from my particular teaching style and methods, whose English is at the right level for my classes, and who are committed to doing the work to improve their English. I choose my work hours, my teaching rates, and the topics we cover, rather than being limited by a curriculum determined and decided by others. I can rely on my own best judgment and adapt my materials and methodology to suit each student’s needs. In the end, teaching online benefits me *and* my students!
How is your virtual classroom set up? Do you use a whiteboard, etc, or just the computer?
My virtual classroom is simple. I use Skype or Google Hangouts, correct and leave comments in the chat box, and share my screen when relevant. I use Google Drive to share documents and provide immediate feedback as well. I don’t use a digital whiteboard but I do have a real mini whiteboard in case I feel the need to explain something visually, especially when teaching pronunciation. I use an HD webcam and a standing microphone for quality video and audio and a laptop stand to position my computer at eye level.
In terms of students, have you noticed any significant changes in how people learn when their teacher is in the room vs. on a screen?
Not really. Because I focus primarily on conversation skills, accent training, and communication techniques in my one-to-one sessions, it feels as if the person were in the same room as me. I do think it depends on the teacher’s personality – if you make it easy for students to connect with you online, they certainly will.
The only difference I notice is when I teach live group video lessons on YouTube or Facebook. In person, I would use more communicative teaching approaches to elicit answers and get my students involved, but during live video lessons, I tend to lecture unless a lot of students are watching live and interacting with me as I teach. A lot of times I ask questions and suggest that people watching the replay answer them in the comments, so there’s definitely more delayed feedback than in an in-person class. To some degree, it’s like the flipped classroom where students watch the lecture outside of class and use their time with you to really engage with the material. You just have to learn how to adapt to the technology and make it work for you!
Do you have any class management tips for teachers just getting started online?
When you start teaching online, pay attention to your personal boundaries and communicate these clearly to your students. Think about how many hours per day you are actually able to teach high-quality lessons, which hours of the day you are fresher and more effective, and how much support you plan to provide outside of paid one-to-one sessions. You will find that people will always try to squeeze a little more time out of you, or ask for last-minute lessons, or special favors when they cancel without notice. It’s better to get in the habit of saying no from the beginning. People respect clear boundaries and it shows you are a professional whose time is valuable.
How was 2016 for English with Kim? What are your goals for 2017?
2016 was an exciting year for English with Kim! After leaving my job in Chile, I started working on my online teaching business full-time and really narrowed my focus to what I most enjoy teaching and how I can leverage my special strengths and skills to really help my students achieve their goals. As I mentioned earlier, I also started teaching free live video lessons on YouTube and Facebook and discovered that I love connecting with a broader audience in that way.
In 2017, I’m moving beyond one-to-one lessons: I recently launched a monthly group learning program, I’ll soon be publishing an ebook, and I’ll release at least two online courses later this year. Beyond that, I’m deepening my understanding of how to create authentic connections through online learning programs and how to gamify the learning process. I believe online teaching and learning will only grow more necessary and more robust in the future, and we need more experienced educators to take the leap and discover their potential online so that we can continue to innovate and have a greater impact on people all over the world.
Kim helps motivated English learners get the essential conversation skills they need to sound more natural in English at http://englishwithkim.com.